Ding dong, Kil’jaeden is dead!

IMG_0278Yup, we finally did it last night — downed Kil’jaeden on heroic. It was by the skin of our teeth, but we did it, and that Ahead of the Curve achievement was sweet. We had pretty much sailed through all the other bosses — our first H kill of Fallen Avatar was over a month ago — but KJ gave us trouble. I didn’t check the exact number of wipes, but it was somewhere between 90 and 100. It was no 600+ like Method’s Mythic kill, but it still was a pretty long slog for us. I suspect some of you out there killed him long ago on heroic, but trust me, for us there was definitely some hooting and hollering when he died.

I don’t play on a “raiding-heavy” server — it is technically an RP one — so we don’t have a lot of raiding heavy hitters to compete with, but I was still surprised to see we are only the 7th guild on the server to go 9/9 (H). We are not actually that far away from the next raid tier, maybe a couple of months. I honestly expected Blizz to nerf KJ on both normal and heroic by now, but they have not. Even for a final boss, he remains very challenging. We run normal Tomb once a week for alts and to help gear up non-raiders, and even on normal, KJ is tough for us unless some of us switch to our mains for that fight.

It is a difficult fight for a lot of reasons. For one, he has a hard enrage that serves as a dps check. For another, there are a lot of mechanics and at least in heroic they often come at you all at once. There is also a heavy RNG factor — you can wipe just because of how the mechanics randomly hit. And last but not least, it is what I think of as a “personal perfection” fight. That is, one small mistake on the part of an individual — healer, tank or damage dealer — can easily wipe the raid. There is no forgiveness for missteps, and generally speaking if you have 20-25 people, it is a virtual certainty that at least one of them will make a small error on any given attempt.

That last factor is probably the most challenging. Our raid team does not have a formal roster as such, we have a core group that almost always shows up, plus some others who are geared and proficient enough to raid with us regularly but who miss raids now and again. It is enough that we almost never have exactly the same team on any given night. KJ, certainly on heroic, does not really tolerate this kind of setup. To finally kill him, our RL had to formally limit the team to a smaller number (fewer people to make boo-boos) and to a more central core (more familiarity with how your teammates react). I don’t know if this was the key or not, but it was the setup we had when we finally killed him.

We have a fairly decent gear level as a team — somewhere around 930 or a bit under — but to kill KJ we also of course required flasks and pots, and we supplied feasts and Defiled Augment Runes for every attempt, and also handed out ToS vantus runes to everyone to attune them to KJ. We definitely pulled out all the stops.

In the end the kill included some pretty selfless sacrifices from some team members — for example our mage who kited the second flame ball by blinking into the rift, knowing he was already at low health and would die. Or people who selflessly racked up a couple or more debuffs from soaking meteors — because they knew letting one go spelled disaster for the team — even if it meant they would go into the dark phase at seriously low health. And our healers — well, they were magnificent. Tanks as usual were at the top of their game, something I have come to take for granted, but they really are continuously excellent.

For me, KJ remains one of the toughest final bosses. I did not raid in BC, so I can’t speak to those raids, but until this fight the hardest two bosses for raid teams I was on at the time were Ragnaros and Archimonde. I am pretty sure Kil’jaeden tops those, claiming the number one spot as my all time toughest challenge.

Anyway, short post today, going to give myself a little time to savor the euphoria!

If you are not in the path of Hurricane Irma, maybe send some positive thoughts in the direction of those who are. If you are in the path, please please please stay safe. See you all on the other side of the weekend.

Deja vu?

As we all know, Patch 7.3 will go live with the reset next week. Some people are wildly excited about it, others not so much. For myself, I am in a wait-and-see mode about it. On the one hand, I am impressed with Blizz’s lockstep adherence to their stated release goals for Legion patches and raid tiers. I have to admit, when they announced them for Legion I was very skeptical that they would be able to keep up, and that soon we would be in another dire WoD dearth situation. Let’s face it, their recent track record up until Legion was pretty grim. But they have thus far been true to their words, and I hereby eat mine. My following comments notwithstanding, Legion is by any measure a success story for Blizz and for WoW players.

That said, my “on the other hand” comment about 7.3 is about BM hunters. I am starting to get an uneasy, gnawing feeling in my gut about Blizz’s intentions for the spec. Since the first round of class adjustments in 7.1.5 (the one where all hunter specs got their traps back), Blizz has either nerfed BM or ignored it while they buffed many other classes. When they have given us a buff, as in 7.2.5 when they gave us as baseline 2 charges of Dire Beast/Dire Frenzy, they have subsequently taken it away with larger nerf chunks — like the terrible T20 bonuses that made T19 remain the tier of choice for many many ilevels. The net effect — nerfs, leaving it alone while other classes receive buffs — has been that BM has been systematically relegated to lower and lower damage tiers. And this will apparently continue in 7.3. (Check out Bendak’s 7.3 BM outlook here, it is excellent reading.)

In my mind, this systematic downgrading of BM is eerily similar to what Blizz did to SV hunters in WoD. There, after SV was found to be wanting at the beginning of the expansion, they buffed the spec in the first major patch, found they had made a big mistake by making the spec so responsive to the secondary stat Multistrike, decided it was too much trouble to fix the stat mess, so in subsequent patches purposely nerfed SV into the ground in order to make it unplayable for the remainder of the expansion. They did this because they intended to eliminate the spec entirely in Legion, and make a melee spec with the same name. (Of course, they never breathed a word of this to bewildered SV hunters left high and dry in WoD.)

What we are seeing with BM in Legion is not exactly the same as the WoD SV pattern, but it is close enough to give me pause. BM started out Legion on the lower end of the damage spectrum, became a bit OP after 7.1.5 with the combination of tier and a couple of legendaries, and when Blizz realized what they had done they seemed to deliberately embark on a nerf spiral for the spec, with no word of explanation or intent. Are they, in fact, planning yet another huge betrayal of hunters — this time BM hunters — in the next expansion?

I have said before that most of my initial objection to BM in Legion had to do with play style and not numbers. I stand by that, and although I still dislike the general press-the-button-on-CD method, Blizz has added a small amount of complexity to the rotation that helps. Basically, I have made my peace with it.

And while I am not a meter hog, I do understand that numbers matter because of perception. It’s in some ways a self-fulfilling prophecy that if a particular spec is thought to be weak then fewer top level players will play it, thus the spec will sink even lower on the summary charts because almost no experts are playing it, etc. And one of the initial reasons people will consider a spec to be weak, like it or not, are simulation results. These have a lot of flaws, but they do have one overriding feature: for a given spec, talent and gear build, and type of fight, they will show the maximum damage potential. Absent a lottery-winning run of proc luck, almost no player in those same circumstances can hope to do better than the sim number, no matter how perfectly they may play. Now of course for any given raid there is almost never a simulation set of circumstances present. Still, the sims do give a very general benchmark of what to expect from a spec.

More to my point, when the sims as well as the actual damage charts have a spread of over 300k between the top and bottom specs, then in my opinion we are in a situation of class imbalance that implies there are definite winner and loser specs. Try though they may, Blizz has thus far failed to bring about true class balance in Legion, feel-good comments by the Game Director notwithstanding.

We can quibble about the exact damage position of BM hunters in 7.2.5 and going forward, but both the charts over time as well as my own anecdotal observations show a definite downward trend. I used to routinely be in the top 5-6 damage dealers in my raid, for example, but over the last month or more it is far more usual for me to only be in the top 10 or even 12. (Which is not very encouraging considering we usually run with only 12-15 DPS.)  Some of this is due to the nature of the bosses in Tomb of Sargeras, and on a couple of bosses may just be my slow learning curve, but some of it is also due to Blizz’s failure to design BM hunters to scale with gear as well as other classes do. This is a clear class balance design flaw, possibly not limited to BM hunters, but that is the spec I pay attention to.

So yeah, I am starting to get worried about the future of BM hunters. I was confused and angry when they nerfed my beloved SV hunter into the ground in WoD, and I certainly did not catch on at the time to their intent. But I am older and wiser now, and I am beginning to suspect I have seen this show before. Fool me once, etc. I will be scrutinizing every word Blizz has on hunters as we move forward, into 7.3 and beyond.

Now I believe beer is in order. Enjoy your weekend.

Guild-y thoughts

Nothing of great interest in this post. It is just a sort of history of my guild journeys. You can easily skip it and you won’t miss anything.

As we seem to be in a pause in the pace of Legion just now — a good thing, in my opinion — I have been thinking a little about the role and nature of guilds in WoW. I will admit up front that I am a big supporter of them as a structure in the game, but I also know there are pros and cons to belonging to one. At times I envy the independence and freedom of those players who eschew guild membership, and to be honest I rather admire them for their willingness to play — and enjoy — the game completely solo. But when I weigh everything, I personally come down on the side of belonging to a guild.

In my very early days in the game (I started playing at the tail end of Burning Crusade) — when I had only my hunter character and was leveling up, I joined a couple of guilds randomly, stuck around for maybe a week or so, then left. I had no ties to them, I had only answered their chat spam. Once I was in them, I could really see no benefit for me — their guild chat was not especially friendly or welcoming, and the players that were around my level all seemed to have their own set little questing groups. So I didn’t stick around long.

My first real guild experience came when a RL friend of mine invited me to a guild he belonged to. That was where I began to appreciate some of the fun parts of guild membership, and where I got my first taste of how much more fun dungeons and quests were with a group you knew. Unfortunately, the guild was in its waning days, and it dissolved within a couple of months of my joining.

My friend found another guild (one his ex belonged to, but that’s another story) and I was invited to join it. The members were nice enough, and we ran a few dungeons together from time to time, but my strongest memory is that it was just weird, in a funny-strange sort of way. I play on what is ostensibly an RP realm (almost nobody RPs on it except the perverts in Goldshire), and apparently the people in the guild thought RP required a certain manner of speaking. Mind you, they did not really do RP, just enforced what they thought was a speech requirement. It consisted almost entirely of using the pronouns thee and thy and their variationsand sometimes throwing in a few ye‘s and yonder‘s along with some random uses of doth, dost and hath.

It was hysterically ridiculous, not only for the stupidity of the rule, but also because no one in the guild had the slightest idea how to properly use these words. Thee was always used as the subject of a sentence (not properly as an object) in place of “you”. The proper nominative usage, thou, was never used. Thy and thine were used interchangeably and at random as possessives, with no regard to the similar a/an usage today. Egregiously, ye was used not as the second person nominative plural but as a substitute for “the”. Doth and dost were also used pretty much at random, rather than as the third person singular and second person singular, respectively. It was at once painful and hilarious. Some actual examples from guild chat:

  • “Thee can repair thine gear at ye armorer in yonder shoppe.”
  • “Thee needs to hurry, we art in ye dungeon already.”
  • “Thine chat comments dost not conform to our guild rules. We hath these rules because we art on an RP server.”
  • “Doth thee have a cat pet thee couldeth use?”

Yeah, that guild, too, soon disintegrated. Not such a bad thing…

But I digress. By this time in my guild career, my friend had stopped playing the game and therefore — possibly for the best, given his track record — I was on my own to find a new guild. As all my previous guilds had been relatively small ones, I started to look for a really large guild, figuring that even if there was some drama, that it would affect only some of the members not the entire guild. Also, I felt like in a large guild I would have a better chance of finding a sub-group I was comfortable playing with.

Thus I joined what was at the time the largest guild on my server. It was a social guild, but it had a reasonable raid team. There were always organized guild activities, and a lot of people playing on any given night. I was completely oblivious to guild politics, so when there was a dead-of-the-night coup that resulted in a new GM and a whole new slate of officers, I just took it in stride. Eventually I became an officer in this guild, and I stayed with it for almost five years. But it, too, withered. Shortly after the “coup”, guild policies became more and more restrictive, and it lost many of its members. In short order it was no longer even close to the largest on the server. The GM and co-GM held power tightly centralized, so that even the officers had very little say in shaping of policy. For about a year, officers were not even allowed to invite people to the guild without GM approval. Still, I really liked the people in the guild, including the GM and co-GM, so I stayed. Also, I have this damned loyalty gene, and I will not abandon something I have committed to until the situation becomes intolerable.

Eventually the rather repressive nature of the guild, combined with the ravages of WoD, took its toll. We could no longer field even 10 people to raid, and nightly activity dwindled to maybe two or three people on at a time. I wanted to raid on my main hunter, but there was a rule that we could not belong to another guild on the same realm, even with alts, we had to fully commit to this guild all or nothing. I lobbied hard for several weeks and finally won permission to take my alt hunter and a druid alt to another actual raiding guild, as long as I did not say anything about it in guild chat. This of course should have been a final straw for me, but like I said, overdeveloped sense of loyalty….

I finally did leave that guild, though — with a great deal of guilt and angst — and took my main and all my alts to the raiding guild. Sadly, within a couple of months this guild, too, pretty much stopped raiding. (WoD was truly a guild-killer.)

While I had been with my long-term guild, one night during Mists I answered a trade chat request to cut a gem for someone. The person came to me and had mats, so it was nothing for me to cut it. When it was done, they wanted to give me a 100g tip (lot of gold at the time), but I refused because it had been so trivial a thing for me to do. We chatted for a bit, and the person said they were an officer in a certain named guild, and if I ever decided to change guilds I would be welcome there. I filed the guild name away and pretty much forgot about it for a couple of years.

Thus, when I found myself once again guildless, I researched this guild and found they were still very active, had an excellent raid team, and were accepting new members. I applied, was accepted after a short in-game interview, and so that is where I landed, and where I have happily been for almost two years now.

There is no real point to this post, I guess, except to say that sometimes it can take a while to find your niche. In my case, a long while. In my guild journeys, I have discovered a few things about myself. One is that, while I am rather passionate about hot-button topics IRL, I absolutely abhor discussing them in WoW. It just is not the place, in my opinion. I have seen drama tear a guild apart, and nothing induces drama more than arguments about politics or religion or social issues. Just not worth it.

Another thing I have learned is that I need to choose a guild methodically and wisely, because my stupid loyalty fixation will force me to stick with it even if I am miserable.

Last, I know for sure that belonging to a guild — even though there can be drawbacks to it — really enhances the game experience for me. My hope is that Blizz will also rediscover this notion and maybe implement some guild-promotion mechanisms in the next expansion. They have done it before but suddenly backed off. I would like to see them go back to it.

Thee shouldeth giveth me thy opinions on ye guild structure in WoW.

7.3 precursors

The final wing of Tomb of Sargeras for LFR opened yesterday. I could not face what I knew was going to be a poop show, so I did not venture in with any of my alts — didn’t even consider doing it on my main — but some of my guildies did, and they came away either laughing themselves silly or dazedly shaking their heads, depending on their personal reactions to LFR in general. The forums, predictably, are full of comments ranging from outrage over how hard it is to outrage over what idiots everyone is except the poster of course who is actually the best player in the history of WoW.

As I said, I have no first hand knowledge of the LFR Kil’jaeden fight, but it sounds about the same as the LFR Archimonde fight in WoD — wildly hard until most of the LFR population gains a group understanding of the mechanics, then somewhat better as crowd proficiency improves. I do know from experience that KJ is very challenging on both normal and heroic, and we all read about the problems Method had on mythic. So we can stipulate that KJ is crazy hard, even on LFR.

Blizz has wobbled around a lot on LFR ever since its inception. Game Director Hazzikostas admitted this in the most recent Q&A, when he stated there was no longer a desire — presumably on Blizz’s part — to make LFR “tourist mode”. You will recall that this had been the original intent of LFR — basically a low-pain way for people who chose not to raid with a regular team to experience some end game content and story lines without committing to the demands of regular raiding. It was in fact designed to be ridiculously easy. Now, it seems, that is no longer desirable.

The other historic thing about LFR is that Blizz at one time indicated it should have all the same mechanics as normal and heroic but way less demanding. That way, if players wanted to preview and/or practice for harder modes they could do so. But of course that was back when Blizz’s philosophy on raid levels was that the mechanics should not change, only the damage levels.

But now apparently “tourist mode” — formerly a good thing — is a bad thing, and changing mechanics — formerly a bad thing — is a good thing.

I don’t run LFR often enough any more to really have an opinion on the constantly changing Blizz design philosophy on it. However, it does strike me that there are limits to how “challenging” you can make a raid composed of 25 strangers, some of whom are conscientious and do their best and some whom simply do not give a shit. Some are pretty proficient at their roles and some have no clue what buttons to press, much less where to stand so as not to die. Some are there for accomplishments and gear and some are there just to screw with everyone else.

The group you get in LFR is the ultimate RNG. (With the added benefit that you can keep rolling a new one simply because people lose patience and drop group, so that you are in effect constantly rerolling the group composition until you finally get a winning combo.) So to be honest I am not sure how useful it is to, for example, keep the dark phase of Kil’jaeden where no one can see anything and you have to run around in pitch darkness trying to find the safe zone — hoping you do not fall off the edge in the process –and then venture out for a few seconds to find and kill adds. Some people in LFR will never be able to do this, just as some people will never soak the meteors, either because they don’t understand the mechanic or because they are ass hats. Time will tell if KJ is overtuned for LFR, but I think I will wait until it’s a bit less chaotic before I venture in.

Blizz has a habit of setting up major parts of the game with a clearly-stated design purpose, only to completely reverse that purpose in short order for no apparent reason other than some dev doesn’t like it. There is something to be said for flexibility and for the willingness to remake the game frequently, but there is also something to be said for keeping implied promises. I really don’t know if I would call the constant swings of LFR breaking a promise, but I wonder exactly who the target player group is for it. I think Blizz wonders, too, and I think every time they rethink the question they change LFR tuning.

There is a sizable group of players for whom LFR is their only participation in raiding. It is their endgame. I have the feeling these players go into it trying to do their best, trying to deal with mechanics, trying to improve their proficiency, in the same way as any other raider. Hazzikostas indicated Blizz is trying to tune LFR for this group of players. I guess we will see if the effort is futile or not, given the large number of morons and jerks who also run only LFR.

Here’s the problem with constant re-evaluation of LFR’s purpose: If people consider it “tourist mode”, then it attracts a large number of players who think it is a big joke, who think nothing of going afk for most of it, who disdain mechanics, who do whatever they can to pull every trash mob, who think it is funny to wipe the raid, who consider it fine to have no idea how to play their class. So when Blizz tries to change the “tourist mode” approach to make it more challenging, the perception of it being a cakewalk persists, thus those same undesirables keep running it. Which of course becomes increasingly frustrating to those who want it to be something more. Maybe over time Blizz can change the popular notion that LFR is a total joke, but it is not going to be an easy transition.

As a related event to opening the final wing of ToS for LFR, the giant imploding planet Argus is now visible in the sky to everyone instead of just to those who have killed KJ on normal or higher. As I have mentioned before, I am not really overjoyed at the prospect of Argus for our 7.3 venue. What I have seen of it, it seems pretty much to be a rehash of the depressing nothingness of Broken Shore. It might turn out to be terrific, but I am not encouraged by the ever-present specter of a planet in its death throes. Just does not seem likely such a planet will yield hours of pleasant exploration and idyllic excursions to scenic overlooks.

And the Doomsayers are back. Whatever the hell those are. I never understood what the point of them was when we saw them at the end of WoD, and I don’t understand them now. I always thought a doomsayer was that one kid in grade school who, when we had to go into the basement because of a tornado warning, would tell us all in somber tones that we were probably going to die. Kind of a less-cute Eeyore. I never thought of it as a professional calling, which is apparently what it is at certain times in WoW. I also don’t get the whole pamphlet thing and why dying repeatedly is desirable, or why there are periodic breathless announcements in trade chat about the location of this or that doomsayer, followed by a player stampede to that location.

In other words, regarding Doomsayers: Huh?

At any rate, opening the final LFR wing in this raid tier, along with other factors like announcing the end of the PvP season, weirdos wandering the streets of Dalaran,  and a big honking fire planet in the sky all point to 7.3 going live sometime around the end of this month. Legion moves on.

Settling into a pattern, and Blizz is still alt-hostile

A month short of a year into Legion, and I realized over the weekend that I have finally settled into a weekly routine in the game.

Tuesday (reset day): Collect weekly things on my main — seals, Mythic+ chest, weekly bonus quest. I don’t run every weekly on my main — usually only the timewalkers and the mythics, the rest I either have no interest in (PvP and pets) or the reward is not worth the time. The rest of Tuesday is spent on raid 7-11 PM server time.

Wednesday: World quests and Broken Shore quests on main, decide which alts will receive emphasis for the week and run LFR, profession, or quests on it. Check the alts’ gear and decide how best to upgrade it for the week. I usually pick 2 alts to concentrate on — I find it is not feasible to work on more than that in a week, there is just not time.

Thursday: Replenish main’s potions/flasks/food, then raid 7-11 server time.

Friday: Run one Mythic +15 for the week on main with the incredibly generous guild group that tries to ensure every raider gets at least one in for the weekly chest. Run emissaries and BS quests on main and on one or both chosen alts. If I am doing it, run the weekly on main.

Saturday: Usually a day off, no game time.

Sunday: Pretty much alt day. Do class hall maintenance activities on maxed alts, also emissaries and BS quests on selected alts. If time, work on order hall or profession quest lines on an alt. If even more time, work on leveling a non-maxed alt.

Monday: Finish up odds and ends on main. Spend a couple of hours running sims on main for next week’s gear/talent best build. Study fine points of the coming week’s progression bosses.

I am at a point on my main where the only reason I run emissary quests and BS dailies is for the reward chests. Nothing given as individual loot for the quests is worth anything to my main — the gear is way too low, the gold amounts are paltry, and the AP is so low compared to what I need for an extra concordance point as to be downright insulting. Certainly not worth even the few minutes needed to do the AP quest.

The emissary and BS chests, it turns out, are the new gear currency. That is, there is apparently a magic secret number of them you have to open before you get a legendary. The difference between this system and previous currency systems is that we used to know how many seals/coins/etc we had to collect to get a desired piece of gear, plus we could actually choose the piece we wanted. But now only Blizz knows the number, and they not us get to choose which piece we get. But it is still a currency system, make no mistake.

So I still run these daily activities on my main. Luckily, it doesn’t take long, what with flying and also having pretty decent gear. Once in a while, if I need leather, I will spend extra time in one of the quest areas where skinnable critters are being killed.

On relatively new alts, the world quests are still useful in and of themselves. The gear can be an upgrade, and my new alts almost always are in desperate need of Blood of Sargeras in order to upgrade the crafted items I usually outfit them with, so they run the ones giving that as a reward whether or not they are part of an emissary chain. I also make sure my active alts run the world bosses each week.

I still believe making BoS soulbound is one of the worst ideas Blizz had in Legion. Of course, they stick with it because it forces more game play and thus increases bonuses for their executives, but it is an enormously frustrating mechanic. The effect of it is that by the time you have an alt able to gather BoS in reasonable quantities, they usually do not need it any more, unless they have a profession that goes through a lot of it. This is yet another instance of Blizz deliberately misleading us — “In Legion you can equip any number of crafted items, no more 3-piece limit!” Sure you can — except of course the crafted gear will be too low level to do you any good. At 20 BoS per crafted gear max upgrade, this can easily cost up to 200 or more BoS to fully outfit an alt.

In a grand gesture of generosity, Blizz recently allowed us to use order resources to buy BoS, at the rate of 1000 OR for 1 BoS, except you have to buy them in batches of 5. Generally, in keeping with the Blizz philosophy of being hostile to alt development, at the time when an alt most needs BoS they do not have 20,000 extra order resources available to upgrade one piece of crafted gear.

Not to worry, Blizz went overboard in their generosity here, allowing a shuffle mechanism to transfer BoS from one character to another within an account. You can buy order resources with BoS, transfer them to an alt, then have the alt use the extra order resources to buy the BoS they need. Sounds great, eh? Just one small thing: the exchange rates are exorbitant. You lose 80% of your BoS in the process. For example, it costs you 100 BoS to buy the order resources that would allow an alt to buy 20 BoS.

In everything, from profession quest lines to order hall chains to artifact progression to the nutty legendary system to crafted gear, Blizz remains extremely alt-hostile. Yes, they will claim they have gone to great lengths to permit alt catch-up, and there are some decent mechanisms. But in general Legion is still the most alt-unfriendly expansion ever.

Still, even given the hoops to jump through for alts, I have managed to get myself into a nice comfortable routine in Legion. Some people might think of this as a bad thing, but honestly I kind of look forward to getting to this point in an expansion. There is a lot to be said for the mental ease of familiarity.

Impossible odds and imbalance?

I am sure most of you already know, but Method successfully downed Kil’jaeden to claim Mythic World First for Tomb of Sargeras. They did it after 653 wipes, which follows their 400+ wipefest for Fallen Avatar. I don’t know the record for these kinds of things, but I am suspecting that over a thousand wipes for the last 2 bosses is in itself a World First title. Whether you think a pursuit like this is a good use of one’s time or not, you have to be a little bit in awe of the commitment and sheer stubbornness it takes to accomplish it. I am not a big fan of Method, but there is no doubt that hearty congratulations are in order.

So the number of wipes is pretty mind-boggling and causing not a few comments in the WoW blogosphere. The other thing causing comments is the composition of the 20-man Mythic team. Among some of the noteworthy items: 5 druids, 5 rogues, 3 hunters. Classes absent were mages, monks of any flavor, death knights, and demon hunters. Two of the druids were Balance spec, and all of the hunters were MM. The melee DPS consisted entirely of rogues and two warriors.

As you might suspect, there is a river of speculation as to The Future of The Game based solely on this one event. Much of it is overblown, of course, but I do think there are a few valuable insights we can derive from it — at least from the little we know of the actual tactics so far.

For one thing, it strikes me that 653 wipes is way more than these elite players need in order to learn a fight. We are talking about people who live and breathe this game, who have genius-level reaction times, who have almost uncanny “raid sense”, who have raided together so much that they know each other’s reactions as well as their own, and who have been preparing for this fight since at least the early PTR days of 7.2.5.

For a team like this to wipe 653 times tells me that the fight is essentially unwinnable, but that there is a small random chance every mechanic will work out to the team’s benefit. If the team can put together a flawless performance when that happens, they can beat the boss. It is not about being world-class good, it is about being world-class good every single time, so that when favorable RNG finally happens, the boss goes down.

This takes nothing away from Method — it is no small feat to achieve consistent performance perfection. But I do think it takes away from Blizz’s tier design, because it renders ludicrous the baseline assumption that raids allow players to progress as a character and as a team. To beat this boss, Method on average had to outgear the loot — average gear level over 933 for a raid that awards 930 level gear. And let’s be honest, any kind of team esprit or group learning occurred long before the ultimate win.

Eventually, Mythic ToS will be nerfed, and it will be attainable by non-World First kinds of guilds, the ones that are hard-core raiding guilds (think realm-first levels) but not necessarily the ones who dedicate their entire waking existence to it for weeks at a time. It might even be nerfed enough so that a few of the early bosses become beatable by guilds such as mine — after we greatly overgear it. I don’t know what that says about raid difficulty levels, but I think it is safe to say we have gone beyond the LFR-Normal-Heroic-Mythic model. It’s almost as if we now have two levels of the four-level model — one version early in a patch and another sinmpler version later in the patch. And it definitely says that Blizz is more concerned with hyping World-First competitions than it is with setting a difficult but attainable goal for regular raiding guilds. (They’ll fix that shortfall after they have milked the hype…) Also, possibly, that they have signed on to RNG as a viable raid mechanic.

As to the other notable aspect of Method’s victory — team composition — I am not sure what to make of it. We will learn more of the reasoning behind it once we can see a video, and as Method speaks more freely about it. I do not think it should be news to anyone that Blizz has completely abandoned the “Bring the player not the class” philosophy, nor should it come as a surprise that the current state of class imbalance has given us superstars and losers in the class/spec lottery.

What gives me pause is how much of this philosophy and actual state of affairs will filter down to the majority of raid teams, and what effect it might have on player perceptions of “winner” and “loser” classes/specs. Certainly guild teams such as mine that raid for fun not profit will remain largely unchanged, especially since they rarely run Mythic level and are thus not bound into a strict 20 players. I suppose some realm-first guilds may decide to reorganize their rosters, but that will not affect a lot of players.

We have seen backlashes before, mainly in pugs, when certain classes/specs are deemed inferior, even if the perceived inferiority is only for certain fights under certain circumstances. Such backlashes can result in unhappiness among players, and unhappy players tend to switch specs to be the flavor of the month, to just quit the game, or to gripe loudly in forums and other communications venues, demanding their now-unpopular class/spec be buffed enough to be “competitive”.

I expect to see an uptick in the number of Balance druids, rogues, and MM hunters in the next few weeks, simply as a result of Method’s raid roster for the KJ kill. It is not logical, but it almost certainly will happen. I also expect there to be some amount of unfair discrimination against a few classes for pugs — possibly some against non-bear tanks, mistweaver healers and tanks, maybe BM hunters. And some of the forums will undoubtedly light up with demands for buffs — pretty much the same forums as the classes omitted from Method’s roster. (There are already buffs in the works for some of these classes, so Blizz may get off easy on them.)

But I still think it way too early to make any sweeping inferences about class balance based just on Method’s team roster for this kill. It was a special circumstance, a fact that will almost certainly elude many people. On the other hand, I do think it is appropriate to think about the stunning number of wipes involved, and what that might say about Blizz’s current approach to raid development.

 

Gear. Again. Still.

After a decent clear of Tomb of Sargeras (N) last night, I ended up with a new 910 ring and was able to complete my T20 4-piece. We had a lot of fun, and while we did not one-shot every boss, we did not have any real trouble with them either. Everyone is looking forward to Thursday night heroic progression. By all measures, it was a great raid night.

So why do I feel so incredibly frustrated? One word: Gear.

I know I have written about this before, so feel free to skip this post if you do not want to hear it again, but I have a sincere, heartfelt message for Blizz:

GEAR IS TOO FUCKING COMPLICATED!

For example, the 910 ring I got was by rolling on it when the player it dropped for did not need it. I rolled on it only because it was 10 ilevels higher than one of my equipped rings. When I won the roll, I suddenly realized I had no idea if it really was an upgrade for me or not. It had the right stats, but my equipped 900 level had a gem slot. My Pawn addon indicated the new one was an 8% upgrade, but a) I had not run a new sim in a couple of weeks, and b) Pawn indicates that about 80% of the gear I have in my bags would be upgrades, too, then when I change it out, the changed out gear somehow turns out to be upgrades, too. I ended up taking the ring and equipping it, but does it make much difference in my damage ability? I don’t have a clue.

However, rolling on the ring — angst-laden as it was — was the easy part. Once raid was over, I began the process of deciding which mix of legendaries, T19, T20, and other gear would be optimal. The factors to consider:

  • Several respected theory crafters out there advise that, for BM hunters, a mix of T19 2-piece and T20 4-piece should be the goal.
  • Certain BM legendaries still are preferred over others, but only under certain circumstances, such as what trinket do you have equipped, what talent build do you have, how many adds are expected in a given fight, and of course would equipping a legendary destroy the recommended tier set combo.
  • I had three 970 legendaries and enough Withered Essence to upgrade one more. Two of my 970 legendaries were for what are now designated tier slots.
  • No matter what, I was going to have to run multiple new sims with varying equipment mixes and talent builds.

Remember when Blizz said the reason they removed so many gear gem slots was because they wanted you to be able to equip new gear in a raid as soon as you got it?

HAHAHAHAHA! Good times…….

(If you have a few minutes, take a look at this Ten Ton Hammer recap of dev gear comments from Blizzcon 2014 — almost the complete opposite of where we are now.)

I ended up running something like 8 sims before I verified for myself that the main difference was in the gear-talent relationships. For BM hunters, and I suspect for nearly every other class/spec out there, certain legendaries play better than others with your tier set bonuses and with your talent build. Or to put it another way, a legendary that looks like it gives you a cool bonus may not in fact do so if you do not have complementary talents and other gear.

After over an hour of weighing, simming, switching talents, studying options, etc., I came to the sad conclusion that — despite my having the four top rated (whatever the heck that means) BM legendaries, only one was viable and the other equipped one would have to be the generic (and in most lists bottom of the heap for BM hunters) Kil’jaeden’s Burning Wish. Any other legendary combos I could configure would destroy one or both of my tier sets. So I reluctantly equipped it along with my legendary belt, and in fact used my upgrade on it. But it did not make me happy.

The other thing that really hit home for me while I was going through this process is that even all the gear helpers out there — addons and web sites — seem to consider only ilevel and to a limited extent generic secondary stats when recommending gear for you. Gem slots seem not to come into play, nor do tier set bonuses in most cases, much less the whole package of talent build and gear interactions. It’s too complicated for computers to evaluate in any kind of timely fashion. But apparently Blizz expects players to be able to do this on their own.

Realistically, most of the gear combos you try will make only maybe a less than 5% difference in your damage/healing/tanking. But they can make a huge difference in play styles (remember the pre-7.2.5 BM hunter shoulders?) and in a few instances they can make a significant numbers difference. The thing is, you usually won’t know unless you go through the complicated evaluation drill I went through last night — simming various combos of talents and gear.

This ratcheting up of complexity is in fact one of the things I was afraid would happen when Blizz fist announced the idea of artifact weapons and their interconnection with spec talents and abilities. The mathematical permutations rapidly spin out of control. Add in the exponential factors of tier sets and legendary bonuses, along with the normal complications of secondary stats and enhancements like gem slots, and you end up where we are today — it is virtually impossible for the ordinary player to know with any degree of certainty whether a piece of gear is an upgrade for them or not.

Blizz, if anyone out there is reading this, for the love of all you hold holy, I implore you, in the next expansion:

GO BACK TO A SIMPLE GEAR MODEL, ONE WHERE YOU DO NOT HAVE TO HAVE A Ph.D. IN MATH AND A BANK OF SUPERCOMPUTERS TO FIGURE OUT IF IT WILL BENEFIT YOU.